Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lieberman Hopes His Fate Isn’t Sealed With a Kiss

On his increasingly difficult path to re-election, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman keeps getting kissed. And not lovingly.

Kisses mock Mr. Lieberman, the incumbent Democrat, all over Connecticut — on signs, on buttons, even on giant parade floats. They commemorate the one President Bush appeared to plant on his cheek after last year’s State of the Union address, a symbol, in the eyes of Mr. Lieberman’s liberal critics, of an unforgivable alliance in support of the Iraq war.

“It’s a ‘Godfather’ kiss — one of those kisses that says, ‘I own you,’ ” said Edward Anderson, a supporter of Mr. Lieberman’s Democratic primary opponent, Ned Lamont, who was distributing “kiss” buttons outside a Lieberman campaign event in Stamford, Conn., on Monday.

In an interview in his Senate office, Mr. Lieberman said he recalled only a hug, not a kiss, but acknowledged, “There has been some doubt, based on the postgame films.” Asked if there had been any subsequent kisses with the president, he said, “None that I’m prepared to talk about,” and chuckled.

Despite his amused disposition, these are down days for Mr. Lieberman, the onetime Democratic nominee for vice president who, six years later, finds himself fighting to save his career amid a strenuous effort by antiwar activists in his own party to dislodge him. Friends say his predicament has left Mr. Lieberman nervous, dispirited and angry, a portrait of a politician stunned to face opponents as passionate in their loathing of his principles as he is proud of them.

He is in his 18th year in the Senate, where he has prided himself as being moderate, collegial and willing to work with Republicans. He has built the kind of seniority that often leads lawmakers to consider themselves invulnerable.



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